It’s time for more egalitarian gender roles

Professor Laurie Smith-Nelson, Psychology 230 professor | Guest commentary

Gender roles, those pesky expectations imposed by society based on biological sex, have changed in some ways in the last few decades. In other ways, little has changed.

Several social forces contributed to changing women’s roles in the 1960s and 1970s.

First, more women entered the paid workforce during World War II and had a chance to experience the satisfaction that came from challenging work along with the power and independence that came from earning a paycheck.

Next, women were included in civil rights legislation that opened doors for education, sports and opportunities for professional careers.

Finally, with legal access to birth control and abortion, having children was more of a choice than for past generations.

Today, more females than males are graduating from college. Current college-aged men are the first generation of men who are likely to receive more economic benefit from heterosexual marriage than they provide.

Additionally, both males and females are delaying marriage and child rearing longer than past generations and more people are choosing not to have children.

Although many important social roles and expectations have changed, others have not.

Despite the fact that the majority of women work outside of the home, women in heterosexual relationships still do the majority of the housework and tasks associated with parenting. Females are also still more likely than males to be shamed for their sexual behaviors. Sadly, the double standard is alive and well.

What does this mean for relationships and sexuality? Hopefully, greater health and satisfaction for everyone. Currently, more females than males file for divorce.

Does that mean that opportunities for women have eroded the institution of marriage? I don’t think so.

Instead, I believe that a positive outcome of equal opportunity is that no one should be stuck in an unhealthy relationship. Egalitarian relationships, where power and decision making is shared more equally, tend to be more satisfying and enduring. Hopefully, knowing that your partner is in your relationship because they love you and choose to be with you will challenge everyone in a committed relationship to work hard.

The payoff is certainly worth it; people in satisfying relationships enjoy better physical and mental health.

If all of this sounds uninspiring, let me share the results of research done by Dr. John Gottman. In his research of heterosexual couples, the more housework men did the more sex the couple had. So grab a dish towel and prepare to enjoy the intimacy that results from egalitarian relationships.

Finally, it is my hope that changing gender roles will continue to empower women to take charge of their sexuality. Females are at greater risk of sexually transmitted infections from heterosexual intercourse because they are exposed to more sexual fluids and the tissues of the vagina are more delicate than the tissue of the penis.

Traditional gender roles do not support women being assertive about sexuality. More egalitarian gender roles allow women to be more assertive about sexual decision making.

When women assert their right to choose whether to have sex or not and to insist on safer sex practices, they are asserting their right to protect their health and their future.

Although many things have changed in the lives of men and women, there is still work to be done. It is time to rethink the battle of the sexes. Instead of battling with each other, we can join together to enhance the lives of women and men by challenging components of gender roles that restrict us all.

-The opinions expressed in this commentary are not necessarily those of the staff of The Daily Evergreen or those of Student Publications.